Sunday, August 29, 2010

On talking like a girl.

Over the past couple of weeks, Mrs. O. and I have been involved in some pre-marital counseling with another couple set to get married in a few weeks.  We just finished up and we had a lot of fun.  They also seemed to enjoy it, as much as we did, I hope!  Anyway, it got me thinking about our pre-marital counseling.  It was great.  Very helpful.  It helped to dramatically improve one thing in particular: conversation.
Conversation was the toughest part of being with not-yet-Mrs. O.  She’s big on conversation.  Me...not so much.  At work, occasionally I would travel for a couple of hours with my boss or co-worker and we would go long stretches without either of us saying a word.  Neither of us appeared to have any problem with that.  Didn’t work the same way for not-yet-Mrs. O.  
We would meet up early in the morning.  I would take her dog, Reuben, for a jog.  We’d have breakfast.  Then I’d take her to work.  She didn’t have a car for a few weeks right before we got married. . . that’s another story.  One day she commented that I would never say two words to her until we got to a particular intersection on the way to work.  Then, I would apparently wake up and start talking.  This was no good.  She felt like she was missing out on all this time we were spending together because we weren’t talking!
So, I decided to start talking.  She would ask me how I felt. . . to get the conversation going.  “Hmmm. . . how do I feel?  Uhh.  Well, I could turn the A/C down a little more.  It’s still a bit warm in here.”
*sigh*  “That’s not what I meant.”
“You asked how I feel.”
“Yes, but I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, that’s how I feel!”  
Not-yet-Mrs. O. and I had been dating for close to a year.  We were going through our pre-marital counseling and we got to the part about the need for conversation. . . specifically her need for conversation.  Our sages, K. Woo and his lovely bride, were talking about the very obvious disparity between our conversational needs.  K. Woo told me that I may never really be able to meet the need for conversation for Mrs. O.  Now, maybe I’m just ornery, but that sounded like a challenge.  On the way home I talked with not-yet-Mrs. O. about how we were going to find a solution.  It took a lot of talking.  Perfect, don’t you think?
At first, we tried simply talking about what made good conversation and what didn’t.  That was tough because how precisely do you remember every conversation?  Not to mention the fact that it was tough to declare one entire conversation to be ‘bad conversation’ or ‘good conversation’ if you could remember the whole thing in the first place.  We did come to the conclusion that it was not the she wanted me to ‘tell her what she wanted to hear’ as far as the specifics go.  She was looking for a specific type of information.  Now we’re getting somewhere!
Plan B: I asked not-yet-Mrs. O. if I ever got it right and told her the kinds of things she was looking to learn about me.  She said yes!  Well I was having a tough time categorizing exactly what it is that she wanted me to tell her.  Remember, I'm an analytical type.  So, I said, "When you hear me accidentally offering exactly the kind of conversation you want, just tell me.  Then, I’ll work on figuring out in my own head how to keep doing that.”  It was a great plan.
Several days later, I had a really bad day at work.  Nothing big, but that doesn’t matter in the moment.  I was telling not-yet-Mrs. O. about it, “I had a bad day. . . blah, blah, blah. . . and I just felt like a dork!”
“That’s it!!!  That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for!”  She was elated.  I was perplexed.  
“You’re kidding.”  But no, she wasn’t.  And there began an interesting journey into figuring out that all verbal communication is not conversation.  When she asks how I feel she's not looking for the news: I'm cold; I'm hungry; I'm tired.  She really wants to learn about what makes me tick: the things that make me feel good about myself, the things that make me feel like a dork, the things that try my patience.  She still tells me when I've succeeded in the art of conversing.  I’m still learning, but it just keeps getting easier.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Insects and In-Laws...

The other day, Mrs. O. was telling me that Little E. has begun killing bugs for her.  So, I started thinking about insects and how I react to them when I'm around Mrs. O.  If I am in the outdoors with Mrs O. and we see a huge spider, or snake, or (insert creepy crawly thing here.)  What’s her response?  What’s my response?  What if the spider is on me?  What if it is on her?  Well, the reaction is quite different!  For example, I learned early on that I have a better chance of removing the offending party if I don't tell her about it ahead of time.  Should I alert her to the presence of the crawling companion, she is apt to jump wildly making it nearly impossible to remedy the situation.  She, on the other hand is likely to simply let me know that I am being accompanied by a small friend and not make much of an effort to remove it.

Now, I know.  I can pick out a few friends, couples, who don't follow in our footsteps.  I can think of one or two gals that are probably thinking, "I'm not afraid of bugs!"  AND, I can think of a few guys who are thinking, "I'm not killing her spiders."  That's not the point.  The point is that there are uncomfortable situations that we all face--dragons, if you will.  All the dragons must be slain, whatever they may be.  Why do I feel compelled to act on behalf of Mrs. O?  Why does she not feel that same obligation.  Why am I not hurt by all?

Consider another situation: relational conflict.  What if your friend were involved in some sort of conflict with you?  What about the ongoing relational journey with your in-laws--think about both sets.  How does Mrs. O. respond to those types of situations?  How does she feel?  How do I respond and feel?  For us, it works much better if I take the lead on the more difficult conversations whether with friends, my family or hers.

It builds security for Mrs. O. when I take the lead in dealing with creepy crawlies and in-laws alike.  That is not to say that in-laws are creepy least not in our case!  It is also not to say that Mrs. O. can’t handle it.  I've seen her in action.  She is perfectly able to handle difficult conversations with poise.  It's really an issue of security.  She feels secure if I am willing to engage and 'slay the dragon' on her behalf.  It will not rock my security to engage with another person on issues of my family.  It will not rock my security to be the one to engage when there is danger ahead, be it the not-so-itsy-bitsy spider, an intruder, or a relational afront.  Conversely, it will not build my security significantly if Mrs. O. were to kill the spider, though I would be much obliged.

Now, like I said before, I acknowledge that these are two simple manifestations of the security issue, so everyone will not be the same.  The issue of security is a big one for a lot of people, though.  There are a lot of husbands who could do a lot of good for the environment in their homes if they did a few simple things to build the security of their wives.  It could be as simple as turning out the lights and locking the doors before you go to bed.  Just being the one who takes care of it can make a big difference.

Moral of the story: She doesn’t need me to slay her dragons for her, but it makes her feel like a princess if I do.

Do you agree?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gifts-part one

As I make the final decision about what to get Mrs. O. for her next birthday, I thought I'd write down a few of the things that are going through my head.  It's always tough to decide on a gift, but I've been practicing.  I mean, this is a sort of skill, right?  It's not least for me.  But you've got to practice when the stakes are low--when there are no expectations.  Now, when the stakes are higher I can lean on what I've learned in the past.

I made this discovery early on--quite by accident.  I was at Bath and Body Works.  I had just happened on one of their semi-annual sales.  They do one in June and one in December.  The one in June is better from my experience, and I've been going for...well, about 6 years now.  So, I was in the store and they've got all these 3-for-1 deals.  I decided to get a little of this and a little of that.  It was early in the relationship and I didn't really know what my young bride would like best.

When I got home, I took one of the items and put it in the bathroom where she would find it.  I put the rest in a box on a shelf in the garage.  I knew it would be safe there!  Mrs. O. was delighted at the surprise gift (any gift is a good gift when it's unexpected!)  After a little while when her supply was getting low, I made a secret trip to the garage for another surprise gift.  It was a stroke of genius!  The best part is that during the semi-annual sale, I can get a 6 month supply of fragrant, girly lotions and potions for less than $20.

I found that Mrs. O. loves the shower gels.  She doesn't love the lotions.  Didn't matter much when she wasn't expecting any gift at all.  She was delighted at the surprise, but I noticed she just didn't use up the lotions as quickly.  She talked a lot more about the shower gels, too.  So, when it came time for filling her Christmas stocking I got a bottle of one of the shower gels.  She likes them enough that 6 years later, I still have a stash of shower gels under the bed.  She's discovered my stash by now, but by now it's no secret anyway.

I found that the same thing worked for flowers and chocolate.  At Easter time, when the Cadbury eggs come out, or at Valentine's day when the chocolate-covered marshmallows are available in every shape and size I like to get a bunch and start hiding them around the house.  It's easy to tell which are the favorites!  After a while, I've collected a list of her favorite chocolate, her favorite flowers, and her favorite fragrances.  It just gets easier every time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The art of disagreeing

Mrs. O. and I had a disagreement today.  We were in the garage together...she came out to keep me company while I did a little work.  She was reading and I was working away when I asked a question.  "Have you ever thought that maybe...?"  It was kind of a long question, and the question isn't really the point, either.  I mean, we've had disagreements about other questions and statements.  Trouble is, I occasionally fall into the same trap as I did today.

So, Mrs. O. started answering, "Well, no.  I mean, as long as you've got people..."

Hmmm...It wasn't that she was disagreeing.  I'm fine with that.  I felt like she didn't quite understand what I was saying.  I probably didn't explain it well.  I'm not always very good at putting my thoughts into words on the first go.  I started to explain, "No, that's not really what I meant..."  I could feel her look of disappointment even though I was focused on my work.

"I think I'm trying to answer your question with a 'no.'"

Ok.  I know I've started to interrupt and I do that sometimes.  I don't want to, so I decide to stop in my tracks.  I'll just listen to the whole explanation.  I'm acting pre-maturely...or perhaps immaturely!  So, I say, "Okay," and I turn back to my work.

It doesn't quite translate in black and white.  I can't even feel the tension as I read it through, but shortly thereafter we were both hurt and the conversation was over for the time being.  What happened?  How many times have I been in a situation like this and said to myself, "How did I get here?  When did I start down this road?  Why am I so frustrated, and why is she so hurt?"

We had another awkward conversation a bit later when we decided to finish talking.  I was asking her what I could have said differently.  After a few suggestions I ask, "So, if I had said all of that, you wouldn't have been hurt?  You would have wanted to continue talking?"

"I don't know."

It dawns on me over the course of the afternoon (with much patience and assistance from Mrs. O.) that a deep conversation is more than "you say this, and then I'll respond with that."  If only life were that simple.  It seems like the problem is more related to the fact that it sometimes takes Mrs. O. a minute to separate how she feels from what she thinks.  Her thoughts don't always come out in a step by step kind of order.  I, on the other hand have little trouble separating how I feel from what I fact, if I don't think about it too much I wouldn't even realize that I feel anything at all.  All of that makes Mrs. O. feel like she's at a disadvantage when the conversation turns into a debate.  If she thinks she's at a disadvantage, she's more inclined to be hurt by what I say.

But, I still haven't answered the question: how do we disagree without insult?  How do you say, "I think you're smart, but wrong."  Once I catch myself interrupting, is there any way to turn that around?  Where is the point of no return...or is there a point of no return?  Well, I have a plan: I'm going to do my best to simply listen to Mrs. O.  Sounds pretty basic.  I should be able to do it.  Just listen until she's finished.  No comments.  No additional explanations.  If I really do want to hear what she has to say, then maybe I'll start by doing just that: listening to what she has to say.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

30th Birthday part two...

At Mrs. O's request, here's part two of the birthday bomb.  This should tell you how sweet she is to me: she says that some of the best things have come from that birthday disaster and she thinks I should write about the good things as well.  So, here's what happened in the days following her 30th birthday.

For starters, things were a little chilly in our house for a couple of days.  Mrs. O. was trying her level best to just brush it off.  She admitted having some expectations and was trying to convince me, and herself, that she was ok.  I didn't need to make up for it.  She was not upset.  I didn't believe her.  She was hurt.  Not angry, but hurt.  I could feel it.

After a couple of days, I asked her to talk to me about it.  It was killing me.  She agreed to talk.  I told her that I knew how foolish I had been.  I mean, I could have called my boss the day before and told him that I needed to leave at a certain time to make it to Mrs. O's 30th birthday dinner.  He gives family top priority.  I KNOW he would have agreed to cover for me and let me go...if I had let him know that I needed it.  It wouldn't have been that difficult.  I just didn't think of that. 

Mrs. O. started talking about how she felt.  It wasn't that she was expecting a hullaballoo about her birthday.  We had already had our 30th birthday bash at Chuck E. Cheese's.  I had given her a gift and she loved it.  But there were a few small things that put together made her feel like an after-thought.  Being late.  Being unprepared: no cake, no ice cream.  Leaving her to eat left-over meatloaf when the only thing she wanted on her birthday was to not make dinner.  She felt like she wasn't a priority.  I hadn't even thought of that.

So, I told her that I wanted to start doing things that would keep her from feeling like an after-thought.  She told me she knew that she was not, in fact, an after-thought, and that I couldn't really fix it.  I shouldn't try.  She wasn't trying to punish me.  But, that's not my point.  I realize that her one and only 30th birthday is gone.  I can't change it.  I can't take it back.  There will be no 'take-two' or 'do-overs.'  But...and this is a big but(t)..hee hee.  I don't want her to feel like an after-thought.  I want her to feel like the desirable lover and friend that she is.  I want to be in constant pursuit of her, even though I have already won her heart.  I want to think of that...of her.

So, I asked for a treaty.  Here are the terms: I will not try to make it up to her...that would only serve to minimize my fault.  I am going to name it and claim it.  I failed.  It was completly my fault.  She will agree that if when I do things differently in the future she will trust that I am not trying to make amends for past failures.  I am trying to prevent future ones.  That my efforts are not to minimize the past mistake(s), but that my goal is genuine change of habit to eliminate the possibility of repeating them.  I want to think of that.  She agreed.

So, to start, I'm practicing the art of gift giving.  Letters in the mail: weekly or biweekly.   Letters that I write from work on a regular basis.  I've been pretty regular at that over the past year.  Sometimes just two sentences.  Sometimes two pages.  Flowers: once in a while.  Shower gel from her favorite purveyor of all things girly and fragrant: occasionally.  And chocolate: as needed. 

Note to self: think of that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

30th Birthday Bomb

So, Mrs. O.’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks.  I’m not exactly sure what to get her.  I have a couple of ideas.  I want to have a great plan for the events of the day.  That is all still in the works.  One thing is certain, though.  I don’t want to repeat last year!
Last year was a big one, too.  I got her a great gift.  I got her a Wii.  She had mentioned a few times that she liked the idea and thought it would be so much fun.  I just KNEW she would love it.  She did!  I gave it to her the weekend before her birthday so we could enjoy a couple of days to play it since her birthday fell in the middle of the week and I’d be working that day.  Success!  Or maybe not...
It came down to the day before her ACTUAL birthday.  I asked her what she wanted to do...nothing.  Hmmm.  I know what that means.  You want me to know what you want to do on your birthday, right?  I mean, who wants to plan her own birthday party...well, we really already had our birthday party.  We had a combined 30th celebration between our birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese’s.  We’re so weird.  
So, I ask again...really, do you want to do another celebration?  Big?  Little?  Cake?  Ice Cream?  The answer: I just don’t want to have to make dinner.  Other than that, it really isn’t that big of a deal.  Done.  Success again...until later the next afternoon.
Day of Mrs. O.’s birthday: I go to work as usual.  We’ll have cake and ice cream with friends at 7 after having a family dinner at an Italian chain that we both really enjoy.  We’ll meet for dinner at 5:30.  I’ll be able to be out of work by then easily as long as everything goes smoothly
3:00 pm:  *Long deep breath*  What’s that law again...Murphy’s law...Yeah, BIG catastrophe.
4:30 pm: We’re up to our eyeballs in half-thought-out solutions, I’m supposed to be leaving and it’s my job to fix the problem.  What now?  I call Mrs. O.  Me: It’s ok, you just go ahead and leave for the restaurant.  I’ll be there shortly.  It’s just a!  
5:00 pm: No real progress.  Still up to our eyeballs.  I know I’ve failed by this point.  I’m not sure how to rescue the evening.  I call again.  Mrs. O.: It’s fine.  No problem.  I’ll just take the kids home.  We’ll find something for dinner.  Come home as soon as you can.  Do you have a cake?  Oh.  Our friends are coming at 7, right?  It’s ok...I’ll pick one up...Click.
6:30 pm: I’m home!  Mrs. O. and kids are eating left over meatloaf.  Friends are arriving to eat the cake that Mrs. O. herself picked up at the Wally World bakery only moments before.  Oh, good.  She get.  Ice.  Cream.  
Note to self: don’t ever let that happen again!

Monday, August 2, 2010

On security

On one of many arduous treks to Presque Isle, Maine, I learned something about reality: It looks different depending on whose seat you're occupying.  We were on our way North on Interstate 95 when it started to rain.  Not just any rain, but the freezing drizzle that all residents of the frozen north come to know intimately over the winter months.  So, we're somewhere between Bangor and Houlton which means we're in the middle of nowhere.  I can sense that Kelly is getting a little tense.  She always gets tense when we're traveling in this kind of weather.

Now, I'm traveling the speed limit.  Honestly.  There are no other cars on the road.  None.  Not on my side going North and none going South, either.  I know that Mrs. O. would like me to slow down, but knowing that makes me defensive.  She hasn't said anything.  Not a word.  She's not gripping the dashboard or biting her fingernails, but I know.  It makes me feel like she doesn't trust me.  If she really trusted me, she would know that I will keep us safe, right?

Then another thought hits me.  She's afraid.  That doesn't sound like an epiphany, but it was. Previously, I was interpreting her fear to mean that she didn't trust me.  That was not my observation, but my conclusion.   I had observed that Mrs. O. was afraid and concluded that she didn't trust me.  That must be the source of her fear.  After all, there was nothing to be afraid of...unless she doesn't trust me.  If I back up and question my conclusion, then we're back to the facts: she's afraid.

I remember as a pre-schooler being afraid of the rattlesnakes that I knew were under the bed at night...only at night of course.  They were never around during the day.  I remember as an adult being afraid and it doesn't much matter of what.  The fear is real every time.  Even when the thing I fear is not real, the fear itself is.  Totally real.  Even when I am aware the the object of my fear is not real.  The fear is still real.

So, I decide to respond by slowing down.  What is 'safe' after all?  It's the speed at which I feel no fear.  Mrs. O. noticed that I was slowing down, and she knew why.  The conversation that followed was one of the best.  I had no idea that doing something so simple would mean so much or communicate so much security.

Note to self...slow down.

Arlo and Janis

Arlo & Janis